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ETFs, North Africa & Oil: A Cool Arab Spring

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Political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have spread considerably since early 2011, with Thursday marking the end of the regime (and life) of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. But ETFs with a focus on the region have been falling sharply, along with oil prices, rather than moving in a more optimistic direction sometimes associated with political change.

Currently, no ETFs offer direct exposure to Libya, though several give investors exposure to the broader region.

The PowerShares MENA Frontier Country ETF (PMNA) tracks firms in the Middle East and North Africa and includes holdings such as Qatar National Bank and the National Bank of Kuwait. It was volatile this week, but generally unchanged over the past five days.

For the past six months, though, PMNA is down about 15%. This performance falls below that of the S&P and Dow Jones, which have declined about 9% during the same timeframe. However, it outpaces that of crude oil futures, as tracked by the U.S. Oil Fund ETF (USO): it is down roughly 25% over the past six months.

The MarketVectors Gulf States Index ETF (MES) has similar holdings to PMNA and is down roughly 13% over the last half-year, as is the WisdomTree Middle East Dividend ETF (GULF), which includes holdings in Qatar Telecom.

As for U.S., French and other companies that have operations or interests in Libya, their performance is quite similar to that of ETFs focused on the region. Total (TOT) has weakened about 13% in the past six months, as has ENI (E). Occidental Petroleum (OXY), though, is down 15% during the period.